Imaginary Numbers

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The True Marius

Outside Magaliesburg, South Africa


Back in the makeshift laboratory, Marius wheeled himself around in a wheelchair. His strong arms made a powerful engine. He pulled himself up, out of the chair, and supported himself with his elbows on the edge of the steel table. Below him, two of the meerkats scuttled and squeaked almost empathetic to the pain he felt in his leg.

On the steel table was a microscope, a test tube holder, the centrifuge, as well as his laptop. He slid his laptop closer, lowered himself back into his chair, and took his computer. In the middle of the lab, with the meerkats running around while one stood sentinel at the door, Marius googled ‘recombinant DNA,’ which entailed cloning a selected portion of genetic information, and injecting it into a virus. He remembered the term ‘recombinant’ from the memorized lecture and determined that it would be the starting point for his new mission.

Outside, his bizarre creations had become a scourge. People had been going missing, and some houses had been destroyed by rampaging constructs, some of which had grown to such immense sizes that the destruction of the buildings seemed almost accidental, like twigs snapped by the footsteps of a sauntering buffalo. News reports claimed that it was a herd of rogue bull elephants, but the interviewees, mostly superstitious day labourers, claimed that nature had turned on its head, that spirits were invading from hell, or that the grim devils allowed them to survive to tell the poachers that they took one too many tusks and horns. All of them were shivering in fear, others were completely hysterical, and some were mumbling prayers on the national news. Journalists were skeptical, because other than the circumstantial eye-witness accounts, only one man was brave enough to snap a photo with his cell phone. It was a blurry photo, of an animal that looked like a dinosaur. In reality, it was a chimera consisting of the body of a lion, the tail of a scorpion, and the head of a crocodile. It had stony skin and faded into the background which matched its ruddy hue perfectly. It was partially obscured by the corrugated tin roof it was tearing apart. No one gave it much credence. No one except for Marius, for whom it had validated his fear that these creatures were, in fact, getting bigger.

He figured that the meerkats were unable to grow because they were not made of the African earth, and so couldn’t absorb it. But, on the other hand, the meerkats proved that the clay animals could breed. He snatched up a specimen from under his wheelchair.

“Hello, little guy.” The animal struggled a bit, then relaxed. “You’re going to be my guinea pig, I’m afraid.” Then he put the animal in a sealed cage. “We have to figure out your weakness.” The other meerkat whined then ran out to the edge of the warehouse, where it joined the rest of the clan, who were all standing on their back legs, peeking in.

Over the next few days, he would suffocate it, freeze it, starve it, drown it, stick pins in it, and use a blowtorch on it—all with varied results.

The general conclusion was that these constructs were nearly impossible to kill. They could survive without air, food, and were largely temperature resistant. The blow torch vitrified the poor creature’s forearm, turning it into a glass claw, which now clinked against the plexiglass cage whenever it moved about on four legs.

After a period of sadistic experimentation, Marius decided that he would have to find an illness that could be modified to kill them all off. He considered his options in the single bed, a military cot, which he had set up in the storage closet attached to the abattoir. Like every room it had a drain in the cement floor. As usual, Marius was watching TV before he went to sleep. The tiny television set was balanced on top of a wooden avocado case, projecting the SABC national news into the bare room.

The lead story was the mysterious animal attacks that had started to occur in the north of the country, and it seemed to be wrapping up as he flipped to the channel.

“In related news,” the anchor continued, “the woman attacked by an animal in Magaliesburg last week has died from her injuries. Anika ‘Noepie’ van Wyk was 46, and her death has put pressure on the Rangers to track the rogue animals and put them down.” Marius shook his head; his naturally proud face hollowed.

They showed a white woman, who spoke with a heavy Afrikaans accent of rolling ’r’s. Behind her is her farm house. “No, they must kill dese fings. Dese leopards eat our animals, too. Now dey eating people! My children is afraid. We all afraid.” Images of cows torn apart were shown, and a township with a trail of destruction like a tornado that had torn through the shanties.

“A lot of people believe that it is the work of devils.” The anchor announced the sentence skeptically, as they showed a video taken by a traffic helicopter.

“According to a radio traffic copter, a mysterious flying creature was seen floating over parliament yesterday. As with all of the incidents, the footage is conspicuous, so we will leave it to you to determine what it might be.”

The video showed a winged diamond-shape hovering over parliament. It was distant and lacked any clarity, but Marius knew it was his flying spider.

The animals were roaming, and they would continue to grow, to expand, and perhaps to multiply until his menace killed enough people that the military would get involved. He knew that it was only a matter of time until one ventured into Gauteng, where the people of Jo’burg would collectively muster belief in these bizarre demons terrorizing them.

It was up to him to do something. If he could create, he could also destroy. He turned off the TV, and opened his laptop, and reviewed the steps for DNA insertion into a vector.

He would create a virus that will affect only his clay beasts. It would turn them all to piles of mud and leave the world in peace. This time, he didn’t even want credit for it. He would just know that he saved the world. It would be his little secret, something he would do for the good of humanity. It would be an act, not as the professor, but as Marius. A grand undoing of evil, he thought. A purely altruistic act.

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